The Embarrassing Early Films of Oscar-Winning Directors

It’s easy to forget that some of the greats had to start out making the not so great…

Francis Ford Coppola

Oscar for:The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Early efforts:Tonight for Sure (1962), The Bellboy and the Playgirls(1962)

The story: Many a struggling young filmmaker has taken advantage of the quick money and relative anonymity of, um, adult entertainment early in their career. Wes Craven and Barry Sonnenfeld worked on porn sets to pay the bills, and future Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola’s first two directorial efforts, from 1962, were in the “nudie cutie” vein — softcore movies, from back when naked flesh on-screen was still a big deal. According to Jami Bernard’s invaluable book First Films, Coppola directed a short called “The Peeper” while still at UCLA film school; it concerned a bumbling peeping Tom trying to catch a glimpse of skin during a photo shoot. “The Peeper” was joined with another short by another young filmmaker and released as Tonight for Sure. He was then hired to add new, nudity-and-slapstick material to a 1958 German movie, which was re-titled The Bellboy and the Playgirls. But Coppola discovered he was too soft-hearted for the nudie racket: “There was a 3-D scene where we had to have five girls sitting at their dressers,” he recalled, “and they were hired and paid to do this. One of the girls came to me and said, ‘I’m only seventeen and my father is going to kill me.’ So I said, ‘Well, okay, leave your brassiere on.’ So there were these four girls, plus one who has a bra on, and I got fired because they were complaining they paid the girls five hundred dollars. So this has been one of the themes in my life. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll break through the nudity barrier.”

Hints of things to come: The themes of voyeurism in “The Peeper” would return in one of Coppola’s finest films, 1974’s The Conversation.And Coppola’s 1996 film Jack would confirm what The Bellboy hinted: that his gifts are not in the realm of comedy.

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